N.B. I’ve organized all my blog posts on meditation retreats and Buddhist into this one long page. If you’re new, you can read that page for more context on my journey to date, my summary of the Buddhist argument, and my experiences at other long retreats. This post is a dispatch from my latest retreat.
A few days into my fifth silent Buddhist meditation retreat in April 2022, I walked out of my dorm building and ambled down toward the meditation hall to make the 4pm guided sit. I noticed a half dozen people standing at the bottom of the path, staring intently out at the hills behind me. In the next moment, I smelled smoke, and turned around to face the scene that had captivated the other meditators: smoke billowing over the hills and down into the Spirit Rock campus.
Was it a wildfire? Were we on the midst of being evacuated? My first thought: “Yes! The retreat may be cancelled and I can go home early.” Despite all my time meditating on silent retreats, they’re still hard for me. Hard first and foremost physically: sitting on the ground for so many hours does a number on your knees, back, and shoulders. And of course it’s hard mentally: the endless stretch of time with no company but your own out-of-control mind.